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Discussion Starter #1
We finally decided we needed some help with Rosie and her behavior toward children. We have an appt for August 21. I somehow in my own mind seem to stigmatize "not fear based" aggression, as though somehow it's okay for the dog to be aggressive if the dog is doing it out of fear? Or that a dog is "bad" if they act aggressive out of instinct? That isn't rational on my part. But it has struck us lately that Rosie really may be behaving as though children are prey. It isn't just that she barks when they startle her. She goes toward them--especially really little ones--barking like crazy and sometimes even lunging. I'm not clear what the emotional state is on Rosie's part, whether fear, excitement or a combination. We are so ashamed of it, and it's amazing to me how many parents seem to be so forgiving of this. It's doubly problematic because Rosie is so sweet seeming at baseline that children want to come up and pat her (but we have to catch them and explain before they get too close). So I'm glad we'll be getting some help with it. I'm confident it can be addressed but we just need some professional guidance on the best way to go about it.

It's been a hard day here. Rosie got yelled at twice I'm afraid (which we try never to do, and rarely have done), once after she really went ballistic at a child (I wasn't the yeller in that instance) and once tonight when she stole and finally busted my expensive prescription sunglasses (I was the yeller on that one; she'd gotten ahold of them once before, but they survived the first attack, not so tonight). I made amends with her immediately afterward. I know she doesn't steal on purpose to do something bad, she does it because she's curious and/or because we've inadvertently reinforced it (or it is self-reinforcing). But I feel sooo guilty when I yell. I really feel sad afterwards, even though I can tell she's over it momentarily (actually, she really didn't look phased in the first place). She's lying next to me right now sleeping, sweet as an angel, her head snuggling into me.
 

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I also feel awful on the odd occasion when I snap and tell Merc exactly what I think of his behaviour. Fortunately he doesn't speak english or he may not forgive me as readily as he does. He does have a good range of "poor me i'm a sad dog" looks I have to say.

And I'm sure the behaviourist will be able to help you. Our trainer is also a trained behaviourist and it has been really good learning more about what different dog behaviours mean and also how they interpret our behaviour.

As I've said before Merc has days when he goes nuts at joggers / cyclists / kids / paper bags in trees. And some of the behaviour you describe with Rosie he also does - like approaching children deliberately and barking at them. Yet at other times he will calmly watch them running around screaming so i don't know what it is.

You might find that the apparent "aggressive for the sake of it" but actually be a fear response to. She may be feeling your nervousness (which is actually fear that rosie will be embarrassing not fear of the child) and interpret it as fear of the child and hence try to get rid of it. I don't know, we could speculate on these things for hours ;D . Having someone who is not emotionally attached to Rosie and who is right there to see what is going on will help a huge amount. And in a year's time we'll both be proud of our dogs that as we watch them playing happily with kids!
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Hi Merc,

Thanks for responding. I am glad to hear I'm not the only one who might have ever spoken less than sweetly to her little angel:) Really, I started to worry, should I have posted that? Will everyone think we're cruel to animals? Yeah, as far as "poor me I'm a sad dog" looks--I read so much into her little face. I've been known to have these really weird conversations with her, like, "Rosie, do you still love me? Are you just tired or are you depressed? Can I have a kiss?" I picture Rosie thinking, "will this woman just chill out and leave me alone? I don't care about your issues, I forgot about the yelling already, I just want to go to sleep. Geez, you're the one who needs the behavioral consult..."

As far as kids go, it could be as simple as that she hasn't been well socialized with them, so she doesn't know if they're small animals to chase, something to worry about, etc. But what prompted us to get the consult is that she's started to do it almost infallibly, every time she sees a toddler or preschooler (really any age child) she's jerking on the leash, charging them and barking, and we have to watch the mother nervously scooping up the child, who has dissolved in tears. I agree with you, it will help to have someone objective guide us as far as what it's about and what the plan should be. I also agree w/ you that we could speculate for hours :eek: But hey, we've got until 8/21 (when we see the behavioral person) to speculate, so...
 

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We went to our consult today. It was interesting. She had a technique that apparently is highly correlated with how dogs respond to children, which is to bring a child-size, lifelike doll toward the dog. It was impressive, Rosie really did go totally ballistic just like she does on our walks. Even when we held the doll, Rosie was still pretty freaked by it. The vet-behaviorist thinks it's fear aggression, and she has a program of counter-conditioning that she is going to have us work through. First, training more reliable sit-stays, then having Rosie in a sit-stay being fed treats while a child is close enough to be seen but not too close, then decreasing distances with the same thing (pairing the child's proximity with yummy treats). She also wants us to have all strange visitors feed Rosie treats, but not approach to pat her (which is too threatening), and for us to shake hands with strangers to show Rosie that we accept them. I also just signed us up for obedience class, which was also recommended.
 

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sarahaf said:
Thanks for responding. I am glad to hear I'm not the only one who might have ever spoken less than sweetly to her little angel:)
Sarah
No worries on this one. Tika got my glasses yesterday, and my phone headset last week. There were some very firm "NO's, a swat to the bum, and in the crate she went.

She made up for it later by posing very nicely for some photo's. We're all good now. ;)

I wish you all the best and success with the child issue. I've never seen that behavior,and have to believe it is very unsettling on your part. I'd also like to know how it goes, and the progress and steps you take. If you would be so kind as to keep us updated, I know I'd really appreciate it.
Thank you.
Mike
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks Mike, be happy to keep you all updated. Never a problem for me to chat :eek: So far, Rosie is once again proving her quick responsiveness to training as we work on strengthening her sit-stay...this is rewarding but then makes one feel a bit guilty for not putting in as much time into training in the first place. We want to make sure she can do the behavior pretty reliably before we start counter-conditioning. I'll let you know what develops. We were given a prognosis: good for improvement, fair for complete elimination of the problem behavior. We were told that had we been in a position for Rosie to have regular contact w/ children at home during her early formative months (family members or visitors), this probably wouldn't have been such an issue, that it's most likely a combination of an anxious temperament, nature of her early socialization, and possibly traumatic experiences (like 4 boys jumping out of a tree and startling her as a puppy).

Oh, another interesting part of the visit--she demonstrated how counter-conditioning works with one of us holding the doll and the other feeding Rosie treats (this was just after Rosie was barking ferociously at the doll); Rosie immediately settled down when given the treats and then was able to tolerate the doll. Kind of neat.
 

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Thanks for the update, I was wondering how Rosie was going. Sounds like a similar process to the one we used with merc and cyclists. It takes quite some months but he is much better now though not entirely reliable. He spent Saturdays training class (it's outdoors) going nuts at anything that moved and our trainer said it's the most badly behaved she has ever seen him. Sigh.

Anyway it sounds like you're on track now! I second Mike, keep us updated. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Rosie was able to sit and stay and eat treats a couple of times yesterday in areas where children were nearby playing. We'll keep at it. We start obedience class Saturday.
 

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sarahaf said:
Rosie was able to sit and stay and eat treats a couple of times yesterday in areas where children were nearby playing. We'll keep at it. We start obedience class Saturday.
Excellent!
Good luck with the classes.
Mike
 

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Sort of ironic, Rosie is actually kind of a star pupil in obedience class, in spite of her behavior issues in the real world. We've generally had no further problems with strangers on walks provided we have treats with us to do counter-conditioning with. If we forget the treats at home, we usually have problems. The behavioral vet says these problems take time to work through, so we're keeping at it.
 

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I was wondering how you guys were doing. Sounds promising! It does take along time, I've been working on merc and cyclists for about 8 months now and although he hardly ever reacts anymore I still don't trust him. Plus there is the odd night he has a total meltdown....

I bet Rosie is loving being the clever dog at obedience classes.
 

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Sarahaf

Well done.That's great news!

Mercutio

I'd have still used Merc for a sprint trainiing partner..... Wimpy cyclists, they probably still have hair on the legs. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Update--things are progressing slowly but surely w/ Rosie and her fear of children/strangers. She is mostly able to ignore them as long as she gets her counterconditioning treats and we keep the distance manageable. She still needs a lot of work to get the point where she could be trusted not to get aggressive (barking, etc) without the counterconditioning procedure. And we still have a lot of trouble with people coming to the house and her going really ballistic (to the point of frightening people) when the doorbell is rung. We definitely agree with the behavioral vet that her problem is anxiety. I recently had a cold and even after I'd been coughing for days, she still had to stop what she was doing and check that I was okay (and that I wasn't barking at her) every time I coughed lol.
 
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